Report: Textbook Costs and Student Financial Aid

College textbooks cost too much. If you’ve watched the news or read a newspaper in the past few years, you are aware of this. If you are the parent of a college student, or a college student yourself, you, and your wallet, know this firsthand.

The soaring cost of college textbooks is well-documented. Since 2006, the prices of college textbooks have increased by a whopping 73%. If you visit a college bookstore today, it would not be unusual to find the cost of textbook for a single college course to be over $200. Browse the shelves a bit more and you may find textbooks that cost as much as $400. For some speciality courses, like Nursing, textbooks can cost even more.

We know a lot about the increase in cost of college textbooks. However, we know very little about how these high costs actually affect college students’ financial standing and behavior. A new report by the Student Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), Covering the Cost, aims to deepen our understanding of how soaring textbook costs impact our students. The key findings of the report are:

  • Almost one-third (30%) of students replied that they had used financial aid to pay for their textbooks.
  • For those students that used financial aid, the amount of financial aid dollars they put toward purchasing textbooks was more than $300 on average per semester.
  • Textbook prices disproportionately impact community college students (emphasis added): 50% of students report using financial aid for books at community colleges, compared to 28% at 4 year public schools and,
  • On average, community college students use more financial aid than their peers at 4 year schools.

What the report makes clear is that U.S. undergraduate students spend a staggering amount of financial aid to pay for their textbooks: a total of $1.5 billion dollars each semester, or $3 billion per year. The report includes potential solutions and recommendations for decision-makers on all levels to address this growing problem.

You can download and read the full report on the Student PIRG site at


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